The UNDP’s Human Development Report 2009 focused on the role of mobility in increasing human development. The report identified that voluntary migration provides higher incomes and more opportunities to those who move and also has beneficial effects on the areas that send and those that receive the migrants.
Ben Rogaly’s article in Geography Compass examines one particular type of economic migrant: unorganised temporary migrant workers, defined as those who travel away from their usual place of residence for just a few weeks or months. His field research in eastern India looked at men who combined crop production on subsistence plots in their village with local wage work and temporary migration for agricultural work.
He found that the temporary migration did, indeed, bring some benefits. One labourer explained that by travelling to a neighbouring village to do agricultural work he was more likely to be paid promptly for his work, whereas in his own village complex relations of patronage often meant delayed payment. It also emerged that some engage in temporary migrant work as a strategy to raise resources to start a small trade or business. On the other hand, temporary migrants experience harsh work regimes and dangerous conditions. One person explained the physical pain he experienced when working in a potato cold storage where he was required to carry loads of fifty to sixty kilos for a stretch of three to four hours. Another described the risks he took to earn more money, such as sleeping at night on a travelling lorry to avoid losing a day’s trading.
Temporary migration for work has both positives and negatives, but the scales must weigh on the side of the advantages for all those who choose to do it. The overall impact on human development, though, is variable.